This year I found myself in Kerala at the beginning of June. Just in time for a much awaited monsoon. The State had been through a tough summer. It was declared drought-hit earlier in the year. So the monsoon was anxiously awaited. And it did not disappoint. Not only did it come in on time, it poured with much gusto.
As I watched the rain come down, turning to bright green the vegetation at the family home in Kozhencherry (in South-Central Kerala), a short, sharp voice broke my thoughts. “The panchayat has directed that mazha kuzhis (rainwater harvesting pits) be dug in all the houses in the area,” said a rather business-like lady. And before we knew it, the backyard was invaded by an army of women with shovels in their hands and plastic packets on their heads to protect themselves from the pouring rain.
Without wasting much time, the team, togged in maxis in all the bright colours of the rainbow, went about digging little ditches about a foot-and-a-half deep all over the yard.
As they sipped on the hot tea during a break from work, they told us that each of them had to dig six pits in all the houses in the area. The overseer from the panchayat would visit in a couple of days and payments would be made only if they were satisfied with the effort.
But why were the mazha kuzhis being dug in the first place? Perhaps, to trap the rainwater in a State that was beginning to experience water scarcity, especially during the summer months. But as they left, the women told us that once the officials came by and had had a look at their work, we could use the pits to plant something; in fact the ditches were just right for banana saplings, they said.
The next day brought a further surprise. A smaller team of four women was back with shovels – this time to dig vallam kuzhis or pits to dump organic waste matter that would in time become a good source of manure.
But once again, the green intentions raised a number of doubts. First and foremost shouldn’t such pits be covered just so that the rotting refuse does not attract insects and mites and create a health situation in a State that is already facing a dengue epidemic?
Back in Chennai, I read that the monsoon has been rampant in Kerala. Though it has not caused death and destruction in the State as it has in the North, it has been abundant.
A relative in the Kozhencherry panchayat says the experiment with rainwater harvesting pits, being carried out for the first time this year, was in response to the drought conditions experienced by the State earlier in the year. Ideally, the pits should have been ready before the monsoon arrived, but she says this initiative would certainly yield some dividends in terms of creating awareness about the need to trap water during the monsoons.
Also, by undertaking the work on its own, the panchayat was providing employment to the unemployed under the Government’s job guarantee scheme.
I guess one will have to wait and watch till summer next year to see how effective the pits have been. In the meantime, it is heartening that the State is waking up to the need for conservation. Hopefully, somewhere along the way, it will find the right path to its end.
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